Free Advice If You Own The Book: Always read with a highlighter. Yellow will fade in a year so use orange, green, or some other color. Highlight the passages that strike you. Make notes in the margins. Dog-ear the pages you like. It will make that book a valuable resource for years to come.


Books on leadership are not hard to find. Good books on leadership are very hard to find. And there are plenty I've spent money on that I'm not listing here because they just didn't do it for me.


Endurance by Alfred Lansing

We might as well start with my all-time favorite book. It's the story of the doomed attempt by Sir Ernest Shackleton and over 20 men to cross Antarctica, and the year they spent trying to get back to civilization. It's an incredible tale of survival, intelligence, and determination. Shackleton's ability to keep his men motivated in the most desperate of circumstances has become legend. This story is also a powerful reminder for all of what true adversity looks like. When you think you've got it bad, remember the crew of the Endurance. Even Detroit firefighters don't have it this bad.

It also happens to have the all time best first line of a book: "The order to abandon ship was given at 5 P.M."  The book starts with the ship sinking! How awesome is that?

Recommended for all ranks

Leadership Lessons Of The Navy SEALs by Jeff Cannon and Lt. Cmdr. Jon Cannon

Over the last two years I've met three strangers, who in conversation (and without any prompting) told me that they were former Navy SEALs. Now, one of two things must be happening: either these men are claiming to be something they aren't, or there are many more SEALs than I thought there were, and they all want to tell everyone about the formerly secret organization that they were part of. I believe that either of those two scenarios is the result of the general public becoming more aware of special forces.

That's why I was initially very reluctant to read this book. It was actually one of those Amazon recommendations based on some other book I had purchased. I took a shot and bought it, but thought that it would be an empty book trading off the popularity of the Navy SEALs moniker. I couldn't have been more wrong.

More than any of the other leadership books I've detailed on this page, this book is a very clear and concise list of what a leader should do. This book is awesome. Chapter 1 Lesson 6: "Build Your Goal Around A Problem, Not The Other Way Around." Simple and profound when you think about it. And there's plenty more where that came from.

Recommended for Officers

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Why Courage Matters - The Way To A Braver Life by John McCain with Mark Salter

I involuntarily recoil whenever I hear the word “hero” applied to firefighters as a group. Not that there aren’t plenty of firefighters who have done some truly heroic things (I can talk for hours about the rope rescue in Times Square), I just don’t like when people call all firefighters heroes because to me, firefighting is just something we have chosen to do.

For me, the hero is the person who does the things that I’m not sure I could have done if I were placed in the moment they were. It’s a debate I have with myself often: How would I have performed on the beaches at Normandy? It’s easy to say you would be courageous, but it’s a different thing when you’re in the boat, bullets bouncing off the front and sides right up to the point you hear the ramp drop.

McCain explores these ideas as he tries to define what courage is, what’s required for us to have it, and what it is that makes some of us find it when others can’t. He has firm ideas about what isn’t courage, and how throwing the word around cheapens it. And for me personally, advancing a hose line into burning building doesn’t hold a candle to some of the heroes highlighted in this book…which I suppose is the reason I reflexively dislike hearing the word applied to firefighters as a whole. Anyway, you should decide for yourself.

I read this book when it came out in 2004, and read it again recently. It was even better the second time. And it took just over three hours, so you don’t get to claim you don’t have time to read.

Recommended to all ranks


My American Journey by Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico

This book was originally on my list. For some reason I removed it, and I've been puzzled as to why I did that ever since. This is an amazing book that tells the story of Colin Powell's life. From his (by his own accounts) un-impressive beginnings to his eventual rise to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then to Secretary of State. You may be thinking, "This book is his life story, so why is it on a list of leadership books?"

The reccurring theme of this book is to always take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Secretary Powell's personal goal was to command V Corps, but as he worked toward that goal, he kept getting sidetracked by special assignments that took him further and further from his dream command. It wasn't necessarily what he wanted to do, but all of those "diversions" were the building blocks for his future successes.

There are plenty in the fire service who will tell you not to volunteer for anything. Those are the people who don't want you to volunteer because it will only highlight the fact that they are not volunteering. Colin Powell's success as National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State, and Commander of V Corps in Germany were all a result of him saying "yes" to those difficult assignments.

Recommended for Officers

Leadership Secrets of Atilla The Hun by Wess Roberts

The first thing a brand new firefighter needs to realize is that the public can't recognize their newness. The public sees you as an expert; a jake like the rest of us who is going to solve their problem. The corollary realization is for you, the new firefighter, to realize that even though you "don't know anything," you ARE a leader. You might not feel like one, but the public will look to you to lead regardless. And as soon as someone is around with a day less experience than you, that person will be looking to you to lead them.

I say all that to point out that "leadership" books aren't just for the officers. In the fire service, everyone is expected to be a leader at times. (Everyone is expected to follow at times, as well.) This book uses a fictionalized account of Attila's military campaigns to illustrate leadership principles. It's pretty straightforward, but you have to put a little effort into drawing the lessons out. If you take the time, you'll find that the principles are on point.

And as the cover states, there are a half million copies in print. That means that just about every used book store has a copy waiting for you.

Recommended for all ranks (Read it a few times throughout your career and see how your perception of the lessons changes.)

Into The Unknown: Leadership Lessons from Lewis and Clark's Daring Westward Expedition by Jack Uldrich

This one was really a surprise. I found it in the used book store sandwiched between two books on how to beat the stock market. Of course, the title jumped out at me. (And just to be clear, I don't only read "leadership" books, but the last two books I read before this one were true fire service history books that just happened to suck so I haven't listed them here.)

Admittedly, I don't know much about Lewis and Clark so the material in this book about their expedition was interesting. But the tie-ins to "leadership" were also very compelling. It wasn't the same old book where someone repeats "lead from the front" over and over. For me, there were some true revelations here; specifically with regard to optimism. And the challenges of the expedition rang true as close parallels to working in the fire service.

Recommended for Officers

Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

This book was recommended to me by another firefighter. Like I've said above, I reflexively cringe a little when I pick up a Navy SEALs book. When folks involved in a "secret" organization are willing to spill their guts, I'm worried about what the motivation is. To these authors' credit, their preface addresses that exact concern.

I have also previously questioned how much leadership it takes to lead a group of top performers. In other words, "What lessons can they possibly have on leadership when they haven't had to deal with that firefighter I've got at Station X?" One of the authors, Jocko Willink spoke to this during a podcast in which he says that contrary to conventional wisdom, the SEALs actually have poor performers. Apparently, you can get through all that training and still not be good for the teams.

Anyway, this book didn't blow me away, but there was some stuff in it that I liked a lot. They present the idea that if you have a problem boss, it isn't your bosses' problem but yours. I'm still chewing over where I ultimately settle on this concept, but I embrace their idea of extreme ownership.

Recommended for Officers

Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons From The Hanoi Hilton by Lee Ellis

Fire Departments exist within the confines of the communities and governments they serve. In other words, we are charged to do whatever it takes to "save lives and protect property," but are saddled with constraints; many of which we have no say in. It's easy to get discouraged in a situation like that. You feel like you have no control.

For me, books like this one (and Endurance above) reinforce the idea that it is possible to stay positive and ultimately prevail in the most dire of circumstances. Lee Ellis was shot down over Vietnam and spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war; much of that time in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He writes: "Authentic leaders know that life is difficult. They expect to get knocked down, and they have the proper attitude and outlook to persevere. You have a choice about how you will respond to difficulties. Confront the brutal realities of your situation, but never give up hope."

Recommended for Officers

Lincoln On Leadership by Donald T. Phillips

This entry on the "________ On Leadership" books that have flooded the Business sections of your local bookstore, is actually very worth the read. I gauge how much I like a book based on how much I have highlighted. At the end of this one, I had quite a lot in orange.

The author's lessons on leadership are illustrated with very entertaining and often humorous stories of Lincoln and many of the things he wrote and said. It's a really easy read. This book is obviously all about "leadership," but I'm recommending it for all ranks, because it is so easy to read and understand. And because [say it with me] "We're all leaders."

Recommended for all ranks


How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie

This book has been in print for 80 years, and was written when books trying to teach leadership principles weren't so commonplace. But don't let that fool you into thinking that the models of behavior that it espouses are outdated. Quite the contrary; they are so simple that they are timeless.

Now, to be fair, I have to say that I don't really like how many times the author brings up stories related to him by people taking his classes. It comes off as a sales pitch that you should be taking his class too. And you might be tempted to read only the last page of each chapter to see the principle of that chapter outlined in a single sentence, but you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you do. This book is very easy to read, and has some pretty profound suggestions on how to behave if you really sit and think about them; more specifically if you sit and think about if you are embodying those suggestions.

Recommended for all ranks


It Worked For Me: In Life And Leadership by Colin Powell with Tony Koltz

I'm a big fan of Colin Powell's biography which I recommended here for leaders. This book isn't necessarily a "follow-up" to that book, but what it is is a more narrow take on some of the leadership lessons of his biography; lessons that were a little more hidden in his biography.

This book is very easy to read, and I have tackled it whenever I had ten minutes to spare. I don't think there is a chapter longer than ten pages, and it's shortest chapter is just two pages. Powell tackles all areas that he thinks leaders operate in, and gives supporting examples from his career to reinforce why he thinks the lesson is a good one.

My informal rating for any book is to see how much I've highlighted when I'm done reading. My copy of this book has a whole lot of orange in it. Enough said.

Recommended for all ranks


The Mission, The Men, and Me by Pete Blaber

Bill says: This book is much more storytelling than I was expecting. A large part of it is the events leading up to and the story of Operation Anaconda and the Battle of Takur Ghar. Along the way, the author presents a handful of powerful concepts. The primary one that seems to keep coming up is “Always listen to the guy on the ground.” It’s actually something that Colin Powell recommends in the two of his books on my list here. I believe in this concept completely.

But I worry that “Always listen to the guy on the ground” can get corrupted into “The guy on the ground is always right.” Those two ideas are not the same, and one of them is pretty dangerous. Also, “the guy on the ground” is just the guy who is in the action and knows what’s going on. That makes most of us instinctively think downward; that “the guy on the ground” is always further down the chain. But the guy closer to the action may be above you, depending on what the action is. The concept of “Always listen to the guy on the ground” applies in all directions, which is pretty powerful when you realize it.

Recommended for Officers


This is a really tough category for me. I've not recommended more than I've recommended here because a lot of the books I've read on famous fires suck.

To Sleep With The Angels by David Cowan and John Kuenster

Most books that tell the story of a famous fire aren't written for firefighters; they're written for the public. So, for me, there always seems to be a little bit of romanticizing and hero worship (which I don't respond well to.) This book very effectively avoids that in its telling of the horrific fire at the Our Lady of Angels School which resulted in the deaths of 92 students and 3 nuns. The telling really hit me hard on a couple of different levels; firefighter, parent, etc. The then head of the NFPA famously said, "There are no new lessons to be learned from this fire; only old lessons that tragically went unheeded."

Recommended for all ranks (because as members of the fire profession, we should have a knowledge of our history.)

The Winecoff Fire by Sam Heys and Allen B. Goodwin

Years ago, an elderly man walked into the fire station I was assigned to and began to talk. He eventually revealed he was in the Winecoff Hotel that horrible night and escaped the fire. His story was amazing (as was his list of things he now does in every hotel before going to sleep.) The Winecoff Hotel was a "Fire Proof" hotel that managed to catch fire and kill 119 guests; many of whom were under 20 years old. It's still the deadliest hotel fire in U.S. history. I'm not going to pump the book up here; it's only an average read. But I'm glad I had read the book and had some knowledge of the fire when that elderly gentlemen visited the station.

Recommended for all ranks (because as member of the fire profession, we should have a knowledge of our history.)

Trapped Under The Sea by Neil Swidey

This is the story of a ten mile long tunnel under Boston Harbor, the problem at the end of the tunnel, and the men sent in to fix it. Some barely escaped with their lives. Some didn't. More importantly, and why it makes my list, is the fact that this tragedy is like most tragedies involving the fire service. When we look back at what went wrong, it isn't one glaring problem. Instead, it's a series of very small problems; so small that they may have been overlooked accidentally, or tragically considered so minute that they couldn't possibly matter (but ultimately do.)

Confined space. IDLH environments. High Risk/Low Frequency event. Specially designed new equipment. Never tried before tactics. This story about divers could just as easily have been one about firefighters. And as you read, you'll see similarities between this story and some of our profession's worst tragedies.

There is a strong lesson here for the leaders: if your idea is so great, it should be able to withstand scrutiny. The lesson for the followers is as important: when something doesn't feel right, it's your obligation to voice your concerns.

Recommended for all ranks (Because we are all leaders and followers)


Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle

This book is barely on my list of recommendations, but that's not the book's fault. This book does tell the story of the horrible Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that claimed 146 lives. However, it also spends a lot of time explaining the political climate in New York City prior to the fire, as well as the story of the fall out from the fire.

As firefighters, we tend to look at fires from the standpoint from when the bell goes off, to when we go back in service. This book examines the fire by detailing all of the events that led up to the tragic day. Maybe I'm wrong to say that this book only makes my list "barely." Maybe we all should be looking at these events in a larger context.

Anyway, it's a very well written, very detailed book about a fire that never should have happened. But when you see the time and atmosphere that it did occur in, we can't be at all surprised when that spark is first lit.

Recommended for all ranks (because as a member of the fire profession, we should have a knowledge of our history.)


Fire In The Grove: The Cocoanut Grove Tragedy and Its Aftermath by John C. Esposito

492 dead. Wrap your mind around that one. No one will ever be able to say, but it's estimated that there were about 1000 guests and employees in the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub at the time of the fire. Half of them died. Add to that, the fact that by all accounts, the fire department had a knockdown of the fire just 30 minutes after it had begun; a testament to the ferocity of the fire as it consumed the available fuel. A fire that moved so fast, some victims were found in their seats holding their drink. Firefighters entering the building described piles of bodies near exits 8 feet high. This is the fire that made outward swinging entrance doors and collapsable revolving doors the standard.

I'm not going to say this is the best history book I've read on a fire (see To Sleep With Angels above on my list,) but it is a good read about a very bad fire. There are also a couple of surprises in the book; specifically a chapter dedicated to one of Cocoanut Grove's burn survivors whose treatment was pioneering in burn care. Also, the author ties this fire in with the Station Nightclub fire in the postscript and actually adds a list of things for the public to consider when they enter a structure, regarding available exits, fire protection, etc.

Recommended for all ranks (because as a member of the fire profession, we should have a knowledge of our history.)


The Circus Fire by Stewart O'nan

In 1944, an estimated 6000 people packed the big top in Hartford Connecticut for a matinee performance; a big top made of heavy canvas and waterproofed with paraffin wax. 167 were killed and over 700 were injured when a fire broke out behind one of the grandstands and quickly consumed the tent, raining down flaming canvas and melted globs of burning wax.

This book paints a pretty good picture of the circus that day, and as a firefighter reading it, you can see where some of the details of how the seating and exits of the big top would create a real problem in the event of an emergency. This story reminded me a lot of the Station Nightclub Fire. In both of those fires, precious moments at the beginning of the fire were wasted while the audience watched the fire grow.

This book goes into detail covering the stories of many of the people there that day. So many stories that it often becomes confusing trying to keep up with names. But the author was making a conscious decision to include as many of those stories as possible, since many of the previous books on this fire have concentrated on some of the more gripping personal narratives of this fire. It's admirable to do so, but it ultimately makes this book a little hard to follow with so many small details.

However, this is once again a story of a large fire that shocked an American public that was tempered by WWII and eventually changed fire codes. And for that reason, it has to be included on my list.

Recommended for all ranks (because as a member of the fire profession, we should have a knowledge of our history.)


Being a good follower is a critical skill often overshadowed by the idea of leadership being the end all be all of firefighter existence. It's not.

The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team by Patrick Lencioni

Talk about changing your perceptions. This book was recommended to me by another firefighter, and it hit me over the head like a piece of sheetrock during overhaul. I thought I was doing pretty good as a member and/or leader of a team, and then I found out that trust is inherently connected to forgiveness. (Mind blown.) And then I realized that I'm doing just about everything I shouldn't be doing. As I read, the book basically told me that I was actively embodying three of the five dysfunctions.

I usually don't go for these kinds of books; a parable about some fictional company with a cast of characters used to illustrate some point the author wanted to make. But here? It works. Plain and simple. I read it in one night.

Recommended for Officers (But there's plenty here for firefighters too or any member of a team.)

Profiles In Courage by John F. Kennedy

Written by then Senator John F. Kennedy, this book could have been titled: "So, This Is The Hill You Want To Die On." It's the collected stories of eight U.S. Senators who made choices to go against their own party or the public in the interest of doing what was right. It's an empowering book for an idealist (yours truly in my more self indulgent moments,) but also a very harsh book when you realize the terrible price standing on your principles can exact.

This book, like my last recommendation, doesn't appear on the outside like a book aimed at rookie firefighters. But I think this book is perfect for rookie firefighters because they have a tendency to think that every hill is worth dying on. Granted, there are definitely times to take a stand, but seasoned firefighters and officers in a department get tempered throughout their careers to learn when to make a stand and when to live to fight another day.

This book very effectively highlights instances where it was important to make a stand. The hill was certainly worth dying on. It's a lesson for newer firefighters because whether you can wear shorts as part of your station uniform isn't a hill worth dying on.

Recommended to all ranks (I mean, it won a Pulitzer Prize. What more do you want?)

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Another of my used bookstore finds. The title was definitely intriguing, so I handed over my four dollars.

I've attended any number of leadership classes where someone stands in front of you and tells you that "people don't work for money." (I've always disagreed with this and told the lecturer/instructor so. I most definitely work for money. If you stop paying me, I'll have to find someone else who will pay me. Gotta eat. Gotta pay the bills.)

What I think those instructors were trying to say is that people don't do great work for money. That motivation, to do extraordinary things, is inside every one of us. As the author Pink writes, "Have you ever seen a six-month old or a three-year-old who's not curious and self-directed?...That's how we are out of the box. If, at age fourteen or forty-three, we're passive and's because something flipped our default setting."

I've had a long standing debate with myself about whether you can truly motivate someone else, or whether all motivation comes from within. (I can beat you with a stick and get you to do something, but that's a corrupted kind of motivation.) There are lots of great ideas in this book about unlocking a person's self motivation. In fact, the last chapter of the book is a toolkit with ideas to find your spark, or maybe your coworker's. I think it's definitely worth your time.

Recommended for all ranks

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer

I read this book because it was recommended by Deputy Chief Willie Tanks (Ret.), and I wasn't disappointed. I must admit, however, that I did struggle at the beginning. At one point I wanted to put it down, but I'm glad I didn't.

This book spends a good deal of time teaching you to identify when a conversation is approaching critical mass, and then gives you the tools to potentially keep the conversation from devolving into a completely unproductive exchange. The chapter entitled "Master My Stories" particularly hit home for me for reasons too extensive to go into here.

I'm confident that any objective reader of this book will identify strategies for improving their communication skills using the principles taught in this book. It's worth your time.

Recommended for all ranks


Team Of Teams: New Rules Of Engagement For A Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Retired) with Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell

The title of this book really fooled me. I thought the title referred to General McChrystal's team being the pinnacle of a what a team should be. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it's about creating a team comprised of smaller teams.

General McChrystal writes extensively on the benefits of valuing adaptability instead of efficiency. It's a much larger concept that is well covered in the book, and too large to summarize here. But the following quote from the book pretty accurately sums it up, while at the same time perfectly illustrating why the lessons of this book are perfect applied to the fire service:

"...victory as defined by the squad - the primary unit of allegiance - may not align with victory as defined by the task force. The goal becomes to accomplish missions better than the team that bunks on the other side of the base, rather than to win the war. In other words, the magic of teams is a double-edged sword once organizations get big: some of the same traits that make an adaptable team great can make it incompatible with the structure it serves."

Recommended for Officers


Lessons are where you find them. If you're not looking, you can't see.


Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales

This book was recommended to me by a friend who does a lot of leadership training and is retired special forces. Conversations with him at dinner are always interesting, and a discussion about who lives and who dies one meal led to this recommendation from him.

Deep Survival uses a number of real-life stories of tragedy to explore what it is that makes people survive in horrible situations. There’s a chapter in the book that resonated with me so much, I stopped at the end of the chapter and went back and read it again before continuing in the book. The author examines risk, why people take risks they know they shouldn’t, what actually happens to your mind when you get lost, and how the potential for catastrophe increases the more complex a system becomes attempting to limit risk.

One of my favorite quotes in the book speaks about the sport of mountain climbing and how climbers ironically celebrate at the summit:

“The trap lay in the fact that they were only halfway to their real goal. They were celebrating when they had the worst part of the climb ahead of them [the descent]. Climbers are the only sportsmen who do that.”

It’s a fascinating book, and I won’t ruin the part about the sandpile for you.

Recommended for all ranks


Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

The fire service isn't exactly known for looking for new ideas. We pride ourselves on tradition and view any new ideas with crippling skepticism. This is a really good book that only barely makes my list due to the fact that I'm not sure it really can be applied to the fire service. But then again, maybe that's not the book's fault. Maybe the fire service has it all wrong.

Where Good Ideas Come From does a great job illustrating the importance of creating a literal environment where ideas can flourish. It turns out that the physical environment is just as important to thinking.

And something that I found very helpful, was the idea of a common book. I highlight my favorite parts of the books I read, and as Steven Johnson details, a common book is a place to put all of those highlights. It's basically a place to mash ideas together and place them in close proximity so your thinking begins to overlap. That's where innovation comes from.

Recommended for Officers


How To Think: A Survivor's Guide For A World At Odds by Alan Jacobs

I honestly don't know what to write about this book other than to say that it really made me question if I've been thinking incorrectly for a very long time. The book details mistakes that everyone (and the author stresses everyone) makes. But just because everyone makes these mistakes, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive to make fewer mistakes. If you pick up this book, prepare to be challenged (and that's a good thing.)

Recommended for Officers


A Voyage For Madmen by Peter Nichols

This is the 1968 story of the nine men competing in the first around-the-world non-stop solo yacht race. Nine men. Nine yachts. Nine plans.  One finisher. One dead. And several who are broken.

It makes this list because of the parallels I found between the different types of men who were drawn to this competition and the types of individuals in the fire service. Some seem born for it. Some find themselves while being part of it. And some find that it is ultimately no place for them.

I was particularly fascinated when the author wrote about how some men are most at home in the solitude that a thousand miles of open water brings, and some have no love for the ocean but put themselves there with the sole purpose of enduring it. 

Recommended for all ranks

Leadership And Training For The Fight by MSG. Paul R. Howe U.S. Army (Ret.)

I bought this book because of the title and who wrote it. Paul Howe was a Delta operator during the Battle of Mogadishu. In the film Black Hawk Down, he was the Delta Sergeant who butted heads with the Ranger Captain a few times.

This is a good book for anyone who is trying to develop a training philosophy for their department. It contains concrete plans on how to create training designed to prepare students for the trials of performing in real world scenarios. It was a little more training heavy and leadership light than what I was looking for when I bought it. Still, a good book worth recommending.

Recommended for Training Officers

When Cops Kill by Lance J. LoRusso

Granted, this is a little bit of a stretch for this list, but hear me out. The author, Lance J. LoRusso, is a former police officer, now attorney who defends police officers. And if you're thinking, "Well, that's cop stuff," you couldn't be more wrong. Whether it's a cop that shot someone, a cop who has been shot, a firefighter who was killed or injured, or a firefighter who was negligent, the basic process for your department's investigation is virtually the same.

This book is very insightful explaining in detail the ins and outs of the internal affairs investigation process. Hopefully, most of you will never need this insight. But as a chief officer in a large metropolitan department, some of the information in this short book has been very helpful to me.

Recommended for Officers


Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

Why read this book if you can just watch a movie? Because If you only watch the film 300 for your information on the Battle of Themopylae, you are cheating yourself. It's an entertaining movie, but not exactly accurate, and it definitely lacks the detail of this book.

Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps' Reading List, which is a pretty good endorsement, but I read it because it made Shane's list.

There certainly are some lessons in this narrative for leaders AND followers. Loyalty. Duty. Commitment. Professionalism. These are all covered here, and I think the book is truly valuable for leaders. HOWEVER, I have real reservations regarding one of the other messages of this book; specifically the idea that makes the story of the 300 Spartans so compelling: their willingness to die. What I worry might happen, with more impressionable younger firefighters, is that they take this example of sacrifice for the principles of resistance to tyranny and oppression (in the case of the Spartans) and apply it to the fire service. And that's apples and oranges.

No doubt, each of us has taken an oath to protect others at the cost of our own life if need be, but the Spartans in this story actually seek out a death on the battlefield as the honorable way to die; a "glorious death." The idea that a firefighter might do the same is more than a little troubling to me. Our dedication to our profession and to our brothers and sisters is our most prized quality, and I certainly revere those firefighters who have made that ultimate sacrifice; what Lincoln called the "last full measure of devotion." But to seek out a "noble death" in a burning building?

There are lessons here in this book; good ones that ultimately make me put this book on my list of recommended reading, but I can't recommend this book without warning that all the Spartan qualities exhibited are not necessarily easily applied to the fire service. That's why I'm only going to recommend it for officers.

Recommended for Officers